Nursing & Healthcare News

Voice Assistants for Patient Rooms

Are privacy concerns being addressed?

Patients at Cedars-Sinai may soon find a new high-tech feature in their rooms: an Amazon Alexa-based voice assistant called Aiva.

Hands-Free Help

Recently added to more than 100 rooms as part of a Cedars-Sinai pilot program, Aiva is a voice-activated patient assistance system. With Aiva, patients can use voice commands to call for a nurse, request housekeeping assistance, control the television or select other entertainment options.

Patients can address the system as “Alexa,” and Aiva is indeed based on the Amazon Alexa platform (using Amazon’s Echo smart speakers). However, requests like medication and bathroom assistance are routed to the hospital’s internal Aiva hub and a mobile app used by nurses and other care providers.

Nursing Education

The system shows the care team which patients have requested which types of assistance at what times and automatically escalates requests that haven’t been answered promptly. Aiva also offers an administrative dashboard that helps managers analyze and track the volume of patient requests for staffing and planning purposes.

Accessibility and Privacy Problems

Aiva may be familiar and convenient for many patients, but it could also present some significant problems. For example, voice-activated systems often have difficulty understanding accents, and patients whose speaking ability is impaired might not be able to use voice commands at all.

A bigger question is privacy. In-hospital systems are subject to HIPAA, and Cedars-Sinai says Aiva shares patients’ protected health information only with authorized caregivers. However, HIPAA doesn’t prevent patients from sharing their own information.

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Smart home providers like Alexa and Google (which have both recently invested in Aiva) are eager to get their hands on health data, which is a potential goldmine. Data-harvesting techniques grow more sophisticated every day, so it’s not hard to imagine a patient assistance system recognizing your voice and music choices and then using that connection to add your hospital stay to the information its manufacturer already has about you.

As more hospitals adopt such systems, patients may face considerable pressure to “voluntarily” trade privacy for convenience — or else find themselves without a voice.


Aaron Severson is a freelance writer, editor, and writing consultant as well as the associate editor of Working Nurse.


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